Communities rally in response to hate crimes

By: Savin Mattozzi ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of | More than 100 tombstones were vandalized at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia.

The U.S. was struck by another wave of hate crimes in the past two weeks, some of which were deadly. These crimes come as cities report record hikes in hate crimes compared to the same period last year.

The New York City Police Department has reported a 42 percent increase in hate crimes, a trend police officials have linked to ethnic bias and xenophobia that emerged from the 2016 election, according to Bloomberg.

Two transgender women of color were shot and killed on Feb. 21 and Feb. 25. Keke Collier, 24, was shot in the early morning of Feb. 21 in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

Chyna Gibson was shot outside of a strip mall in New Orleans on Feb. 25. Witnesses stated they heard between eight to 10 gunshots. Gibson is the fifth transgender women to be killed in 2017.

“Trans women have been facing these high murder rates for a very long time,” Kelsey O’Neil, the assistant director at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion who identifies as queer, transmasculine, said. “However, I think with current administration, talks of rescinding protections for LGB people, as well as bathroom bills, which are a violation of trans people’s rights, leads to law enforcement being more apathetic to really finding the people who are committing these crimes.”

“Safety is relative to the person. I feel safe when I am walking into the Center for Diversity and Inclusion,” O’Neil said. “I don’t necessarily feel safe when I’m using the bathroom or a locker room or when I’m off campus going to a restaurant. That’s always in the back of your mind.”

On the weekend of Feb. 18, more than 170 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in a St. Louis suburb were desecrated, many toppled over. Sunday saw the same kind of vandalism at another Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia where around 100 tombstones were desecrated in a similar way.

“Gravestones are gravestones, it doesn’t matter the religion behind them,” said Olivia Stackhouse, a sophomore biology major who is Jewish, said. “They are there to celebrate the life that did happen. I feel like as humans, we’re ignoring that. With our president, unfortunately, he allows people to justify their hate crimes… He validates that it’s ok to do this.”

Muslim organizations have been at the forefront of raising money for the desecrated sites.

Two Muslim groups have raised $131,000 to help restore both of the desecrated cemeteries. Any money left over will be saved for any future structures that need repairing.

Another mosque arson occurred on Friday, this time in Tampa, Fla. The entrance of the mosque sustained fire damage, but the flames were put out before they caused any structural damage.

“I feel disappointed that people feel the need to intimidate people through violence,” Tamara Mahmoud, a senior biology major and president of Muslim Student Association (MSA), said. “Yes, something bad happened, but as a result, a lot of good things have been happening. A lot of people stand with one another during these times of intimidation.”

The light atmosphere of Austin’s Bar and Grill in Kansas City, Mo. was shattered by gunfire at 7:15 p.m. last Wednesday when the alleged shooter, Adam Purinton, opened fire. According to witnesses, Purinton began spurting racial slurs at Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, two engineers originally from India. Purinton was thought to have left the bar to later return with a gun. He shot both men and a bystander who tried to subdue him. According to witnesses, it is alleged that Purinton yelled “get out of my country” prior to opening fire. Kuchibhotla later died in hospital, while Madasani and the bystander, Ian Grillot, are currently recovering.

“Honestly, I was kind of expecting something like this to happen sooner or later,” Akhil Kavuri, a junior biology major of Indian decent, said. “People are just misinformed. They just create their own ideas… People who have these prejudices now have avenues to share the hate that they have.”

Kavuri explains that it wasn’t until this recent shooting in Kansas City, that his parents became worried for him.

“Now that this news happened, they immediately texted me and said ‘be careful,’” Kavuri continued. “I had a discussion with them before the election about how things might not affect you now, but when your son, if I go out there and I die, because somebody makes an assumption about me, then it’s going to affect you… and I think that’s the problem. If it doesn’t affect you, then we don’t feel a need to change things.”